Tabby’s Star Mystery May be Caused by Saturn-Like Ringed Planet

by Sankalan Baidya
tabby's star mystery

Tabby’s Star Mystery – heard of that? Let us put it in simple words. The mystery is all about abrupt changes in the stars luminosity from time to time. No good explanation for such abrupt fluctuations had been put forward until recently. This article is all about this mystery and the explanation of a reason that can possibly lead to such dramatic luminosity changes.

A bit about Tabby’s Star Mystery

Tabby’s star is technically cataloged as KIC 8462852. If this technical catalog name is too difficult to remember, you can choose from any one of the following names:

  • WTF Star [Yes, yes, you get it right! WTF stands for what it usually means.].
  • Tabby’s Star after the discoverer of the star.
  • Boyaijan’s Star.
  • LMG-2.

There are other names but these should suffice.

The star is located in Cygnus constellation and sits at a distance of 1,280 light years from our Earth.

The star was first observed back in 1890 and was cataloged in four astronomical catalogs:

  1. WISE (published in 2012).
  2. UCAC4 (published in 2009).
  3. 2MASS (published in 2003).
  4. Tycho (published in 1997).

Some important technical details of the WTF Star are:

  • Mass: 1.43 Solar Mass (denoted as M).
  • Radius: 1.58 Solar Radius (denoted as R).
  • Luminosity: 4.68 Solar Luminosity (denoted as L).
  • Absolute Magnitude: +11.705±0.017
  • Surface Gravity: 4.0±0.2 cgs [Centimeter-Gram-Second Unit System].
  • Temperature: 6750±120 K.
  • Rotational Velocity: 84±4 km/s.

Please note: M, R and L denote the mass, radius and luminosity of a star with respect to our own Sun.

Now, coming to Tabby’s Star Mystery, it was noticed by astronomers worldwide that the star’s luminosity or brightness just changes abruptly from time to time. There was no pattern to these sudden dimming. The stargazers noted that at times, the luminosity of the star changed by as much as 20% of the actual luminosity. It was observed that the dimming pattern was not consistent. Sometimes it dimmed more and sometimes it dimmed less. This peculiar behavior is what is known as Tabby’s Star Mystery as no one happens to know what really is happening with the star. Some people did try to give explanations but they were something like ‘WTF Star is orbiting Alien Megastructure!’. Some said, ‘the WTF Star is digesting a damn planet!”.

Well, none of these explanations had a credible base altogether and hence, not taken seriously.

Avalanche Statistics and Tabby’s Star Mystery

In late 2016, some researchers came up with the claim that they solved the Tabby’s Star mystery. They said that the star is very active and experiences massive outbursts periodically. These outbursts are responsible for period dimming! Those researchers used a technique called Avalanche Statistics.

Wait, what?

Avalanche Statistic is some kind of exotic methodology – a language that scientists speak. We speak English so, in simple words: “That’s a statistical model!” The scientists fed some data in the model and studied the results and concluded that the star is crackling like a campfire and periodically it snaps (outbursts), causing the dimming. That’s all we know for now and since we happen to hate statistics, that’s pretty much all we will like to know for now.

Saturn-Like Ringed Planet and the Tabby’s Star Mystery

Coming to the Saturn-like ringed planet theory, this one is pretty less-exotic and straightforward – something that our less-Einsteinian brains can comprehend. On the bright side, this new theory, that has been published in journal arXiv, is getting traction as a more plausible explanation.

The paper has been published by astronomers from Colombia’s University of Antioquia. They say that there is a Saturn-like Ringed Planet that is passes from in front of the star and leads to the periodic dimming.

These Colombian astronomers argued that the rings of the planet have different densities and as they pass from in front of Tabby’s Star, it dims but there’s a difference in the intensity of dimming because the rings have different densities. This explains the erratic and inconsistent dimming of the WTF Star.

The astronomers say that the dimming of WTF Star may also be the result of different orientation of the rings caused by the planet’s tilting on its axis. We all know that exorings can form around the equator of a planet and when such a planet tilts, depending on the perspective of an observer, the rings can become very visible to nearly invisible.

tabby's star mystery

Based on a fixed observer’s orientation, ringed planets can look drastically different.

This pretty much solves the Tabby’s Star Mystery unless we otherwise want to believe that it is a maleficent Dyson Sphere that is causing the erratic luminosity changes!

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